Designing the Needle: How Gene Editing Can Transform Our Health and Planet

Episode 4: Our first three episodes explored the changing climate, the digital revolution,  and our fluid understanding of what “sustainability” really means—and requires. The common thread? Change may just be the most consistent thing in human history.

Microscope zoomed in

The building blocks of all life on earth are four simple letters.


A, T, C, and G—the bases of DNA—are our only truly universal language, and perhaps the key to unlocking our shared future. From designing disease and drought-resistant crops, to devising cures for hereditary disease, we learned what biotechnology can really accomplish from people working on the field’s frontier. 


Vonnie, Get Your Gene Gun 

From its humble beginnings alongside the common fruit fly and in shades of wheat, genetics has emerged as a field with boundless potential. And its fair share of controversy. 


In this episode, our host unpacks what gene editing and biotechnology really is, and what it’s making possible. In agriculture, we met leaders in plant breeding, data science, and genome modification to learn how layering these disciplines can bring life-changing solutions to the developing world. 


In medicine, we learn about a promising experimental treatment for sickle cell anemia, and one woman’s journey to fight it with “super-cells” engineered using the same CRISPR technology used in agriculture. Finally, an informatics expert reveals how transdisciplinary applications are blowing the possibilities wide open.


Perhaps most revealing? Humans were manipulating genes long before we could spell them out. 

Featured Guests


Michael Rivera, Ph.D. - Dr. Rivera studies the skeletons of our predecessors to learn as much as he can about the way they lived. He also hosts The Arch and Anth Podcast, where he explores the intersection of archaeology and anthropology to tell the six-million-year story of humanity.


Larry Gilbertson, Ph.D. - Larry keeps a double-helix on his desk and on his nightstand. As Applied Genome Modification Lead for Bayer Crop Science, he engineers foundational solutions to some of agriculture’s (and humanity’s) most pressing challenges. 


Mike Graham, Ph.D. - As the son and brother of professional plant breeders, it makes sense that Mike grew up to become the Head of Plant Breeding at Bayer Crop Science. After decades in the field and in the lab, his passion now lies in the confluence of data science and plant science, and in applying its lessons to solutions for the developing world. 


Ruth Wagner, Ph.D. - Ruth leads data science and analytics for Bayer Crop Science’s biotechnology discipline. She believes genetic engineering gives plant scientists the ability to “design the needle” as opposed to searching for it in a haystack, and applies data science to make it happen. 


Randi Foraker, Ph.D. - An epidemiologist by training, Dr. Foraker is now the Director of the Center for Population Health at Washington University’s Institute for Informatics. Basically, she’s brilliant in multiple fields and (appropriately) leads a transdisciplinary organization applying data science to public health. 

How to Listen 

The Tomorrow Farm is available everywhere you stream your favorite podcasts, or you can stream it right here. 


Apple Podcast

4 min read